What is NLP?

Jun 05, 2023

What exactly is NLP?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) helps us improve the way we communicate with ourselves and other people. It studies “what works”. It is a wildly popular set of skills and theories first developed in the 1970s; perhaps “neuro-hacking” would be a better name. Here’s why I wrote one of the top-selling NLP books on Amazon, and why I'm so passionate about it.

  • NLP is brilliant for your personal development and the development of others.
  • NLP improves your communication.
  • NLP helps you manage your moods (this is a biggie).
  • NLP helps you get stuff done.
  • NLP is used a lot in business, self-improvement, sport, sales, therapy and coaching.

“We were born with a brain, but nowhere are we given instructions for our brain. That is what NLP gives you!”
– Rubin Alaie

My experience of learning NLP has always been that the skills themselves are epic, but sometimes the way it is taught is a little complicated. So my goal is to make the subject as simple and enjoyable to learn as possible. That means teaching it in a different, non-traditional way. I introduce behavioral science and studies throughout and take a sometimes non-linear route through the subject.

Finally, I try to make it as enjoyable and interactive as I can – you will of course be the judge of that.

Wow. So NLP actually works?

It does, and in many different, sometimes surprising ways. When I first started learning NLP many years ago, I was working as a radio presenter in Manchester, UK. My teacher impressed on me the importance of practicing these skills as much as possible “in the real world” to get feedback and to improve. He said what was important was to be proficient at using NLP, not just having a piece of paper proclaiming that I was a practitioner.

Good point. A certificate looks nice, but isn’t very helpful out in the world. So I came up with a plan. I would practice on the radio. I’d use the linguistic part of NLP to try to make my show better. Ambitious, to say the least. In addition, every radio show wants more listeners. So I would try to encourage new people to listen and to do so for longer too.

For months I used my show as a training ground. It's important to emphasize that I didn't always get it right. In truth, I wasn’t very good at this NLP malarkey, but there I was engaging with it and trying to pick it up day after day.

There was one particular afternoon when I felt that I'd been particularly unsubtle. I had been trying out a new skill that I had learned on my course. And, um, it hadn't quite gone to plan. Obviously the only way to improve is to make mistakes and learn from them, but I think on that particular day I just sounded a bit weird.

After I came off air, my boss called me into his office. He sat back and put his hands behind his head. I gulped. I was desperately trying to remember my NLP body language. Were hands behind the head a good thing or not?

“I don't know what you've done,” he said, “but your listening figures have gone through the roof.”

At that station, I presented the DriveTime show. In fact, my listening figures had gone up so much that they had overtaken the Breakfast Show. That is something rare in the world of radio.

Was this because of the NLP techniques? Possibly or possibly not. The Breakfast Show presenter was brilliant and it may have been luck, advertising or shifting listening habits. But I like to think Neuro-Linguistic Programming had something to do with it.

The reason for telling this story is not a humble brag (okay, maybe a tiny bit). But my NLP teacher told me to “practice, practice practice” and that is what I did. Not only did it help me actually learn, it turned out that the skills worked rather well.

“Everything is practice”
– Pele

Practice is the key thing over the next 30 days. As you read this book, I will encourage you to practice your new NLP skills as much as possible and to embrace the hands-on approach that helped me.

Here are some of the ways NLP is used out in the world.

  • People use NLP to achieve their goals, motivate themselves and communicate better. It’s especially helpful in relationships.
  • Therapists use NLP to help people get over all sorts of life issues, phobias, fears and traumas.
  • Top sports stars use NLP to win more. Indeed many of the world's top Performance Coaches are principally trained in NLP.
  • Businesses use NLP to help improve their business and inspire their workforce. This is a really big area.
  • Salespeople use NLP to sell more. This works scarily well, and always should be done ethically (more on this later)

But what if I want to train traditionally?

Traditional NLP training looks a bit different from this 30 Day Expert program, but, of course, that would be a great decision too. Old school NLP training levels go like this.

  1. NLP Practitioner. The first level of qualification. My NLP Practitioner training took five months, but these days you can get a Practitioner certificate in a shorter amount of time. Costs for this training tend to start at around $1,000.
  2. NLP Master Practitioner. Next-level skills, which helps you to become more elegant and intuitive in your NLP. Often this training costs upwards of $2,000.
  3. NLP Trainer. Tends to focus on platform and communication skills to deliver an effective message to others. The investment is considerable, and I paid well over $3,000. When you finish NLP Trainer Training, you are qualified to train others in the skills of NLP.

You will of course learn many of the core practitioner skills from this book over the next 30 days, and save yourself some $$$ in the process. It’s not exhaustive though. I’m focused on getting you using the best NLP skills with elegance and expertise out in the world. After you’ve been bitten by the bug I thoroughly recommend you go and explore it further with many of the fantastic NLP schools and teachers out there.

The weird and wonderful language of NLP

NLP specializes in brilliant skills with, admittedly, slightly convoluted names. Here are some of them. (Rest assured I’ll demystify them and make them easy to learn):

  • Calibration
  • Chaining Anchors
  • Collapsing Anchors
  • Confidence Building Tools
  • Complex Equivalence
  • Congruence
  • Double Bind
  • Embedded Commands
  • Fast Phobia Cure
  • Lack of Referential Index
  • Language Patterns
  • Logical Levels
  • Lost Performative
  • Meta Model
  • Milton Model
  • Mirroring
  • Outcomes
  • Perceptual Positions
  • Presuppositions
  • Rapport-building
  • Reframing (I love this)
  • Swish Pattern
  • Timelines

There’s some serious jargon in there. But the techniques are simple and brilliant. So to make things easier, in this book we cut through the jargon for something more straightforward. For example, whole chapters could be written on concepts like Complex Equivalence, but I present less complex equivalents. (Apologies for a crap NLP joke there.)

NLP was created in California in the early 1970s by John Grinder and Richard Bandler. The elaborate naming of simple, brilliant techniques was just what they did. I have personally trained with Bandler on a number of occasions and it was memorable.


As crazy as it sounds, there are many slightly different ways of writing NLP, including Neuro-linguistic Programming, Neuro linguistic programming, and Neuro Linguistic Programming. But this is, after all, a book about NLP, so I had to make a decision.

For the sake of ease, I’ve used Neuro-Linguistic Programming throughout. It seems to make the most sense and be the most widely used today, though of course it all does the same thing, regardless of the capitalization and hyphenation used.

So can NLP basically save the world?

Uh, no. I have never regarded Neuro-Linguistic Programming as a catch-all set of skills that will solve all the world's problems. It is a very powerful set of skills, and I consider myself very lucky to have progressed to such a high level in NLP. However I have trained in and learned lots of different modalities and I think they all have a place.

For example, from my personal perspective, there are aspects of my life that I could only resolve through deep psychotherapy, and I’m grateful I was able to experience that. NLP has given me many things but, to put it bluntly, it couldn’t have solved some of my deep issues.

Do not use these techniques on anyone suffering from psychosis, severe anxiety or suicidal thoughts. For deep trauma, it is not appropriate to use NLP unless highly skilled. You mustn’t use these tools on anyone who needs medical help. If in doubt, do not use these techniques and refer to a doctor or professional. This book does not confer a qualification.

I also want to acknowledge that not everybody agrees that NLP is a worthwhile set of skills. That’s fine. In the spirit of “doing what works,” I believe there are lots of different methods and systems that can work in helping people to change and improve themselves. Science and research are particularly important. I am a pragmatist about what we can achieve with NLP – which is a lot (I believe), but not everything. It’s great to keep an open mind.

Using Your Powers For Good

Finally, this may seem a slightly trite superhero saying, but it’s important to use your powers for good.

I have been to many NLP-related conferences and seminars around the world. I have met some incredibly talented people who understand Neuro Linguistic Programming inside out. The best of them are genuine, and they interact with authenticity and curiosity. In NLP we might call this congruence.

Occasionally, though, I meet somebody who seems a little ‘off’.

They might shake my hand rather oddly, so my palm is facing upwards. Or they may use clunky phrases like “you, like me, are interested in learning NLP”, thinking they are subtly using an NLP technique known as an embedded command (“you like me!). They seem more interested in how they can bend my way of thinking than in actually being a force for good in the world.

People like this are a rarity but they are rather sad examples of those who aren’t acting with total congruence and integrity. (Also, they’re normally not very good at NLP anyway.)

"Don’t fake anything. It’s exhausting and unnecessary."
– Joanna Penn

Over the next 30 days, be authentic and be genuine. NLP is not about secretly influencing people, but about creating some good in the world.

“Be nice or leave”
– Seen on a mug, London


Small, targeted behavioral changes can quickly improve your life. Read my Starter Library and see if you agree (or if you think I’m talking nonsense.)